The Phantom Empire

The Phantom Empire, starring Gene Autry the Singing Cowboy, was a 12-chapter 1935 Mascot serial that combined the western, musical, and science fiction genres. The first episode is 30 mins, the rest about 20 minutes.

This was Gene Autry's first starring role, playing himself as a singing cowboy.


Gene Autry plays a singing cowboy of the same name, who runs Radio Ranch, a dude ranch from which he makes a daily live radio broadcast at 2pm. This is a "modern" cowboy story, with planes and such. Gene has two kid sidekicks, Frankie Darro and Betsy King Ross, who lead a club, the "Junior Thunder Riders," in which the kids play at being armoured knights of an unknown civilization, the mysterious Thunder Riders who make a sound like thunder when they ride. The kids, dressing up in capes and water-bucket helmets, play at riding "to the rescue!" (to quote their motto).

A chance to be real heroes occurs when Betsy, Frankie and Gene are kidnapped by the real Thunder Riders, from the super-scientific underground empire of Murania, complete with towering skyscrapers, robots, ray-guns, elevators tubes that extend miles from the surface, and an icy, evil blonde Queen Tika. On the surface, a group of crooks under Prof Beetson plan to invade Murania and seize its radium wealth, while in Murania, a group of revolutionaries plot to overthrow Queen Tika.

The inhabitants of Murania are the lost tribe of Mu and went below the surface in the Ice Age, 100,000 years ago and now live in a fantastically advanced city 20 or 25,000 feet underground and cannot now breathe the air at ground level so must wear masks. Gene Autry however has no trouble breathing their air. The Thunder Guard (Riders) emerge into the surface world from a cave where a huge rock door opens upwards, remindful of Ali Baba. Both Muranians and Prof Beetson's team want to get rid of Autry so he loses his radio contract and Radio Ranch becomes vacant.


Chapter titles

  1. The Singing Cowboy
  2. The Thunder Riders
  3. The Lightning Chamber
  4. Phantom Broadcast
  5. Beneath the Earth
  6. Disaster From the Skies
  7. From Death to Life
  8. Jaws of Jeopardy
  9. Prisoners of the Ray
  10. The Rebellion
  11. A Queen in Chains
  12. The End of Murania

Cultural references

The 1979 television series Cliffhangers, which attempted to recreate the old movie serial feel by showing three serial chapters in each episode, included a serial titled "The Secret Empire," a pastiche of The Phantom Empire. Events in the underground empire were shown in color, but events on the surface were "in glorious black and white."


External links

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